The sbbfc Student Guide 2005/06
www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification




          The sbbfc Student Guide


          Welcome...
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          History: Introduction

        The British ...
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          Legislation: Introduction

          The BB...
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         Film: Licensing Legislation

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          The Criminal Law

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         Classification: Overview


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          Introduction

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Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
Sbbfc Guide2005
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Sbbfc Guide2005

  1. 1. The sbbfc Student Guide 2005/06
  2. 2. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification The sbbfc Student Guide Welcome to the printable (pdf) version of the sbbfc Student Guide. This has been designed to give students and educators a detailed overview of the BBFC as an aid to studying the topics of Media Regulation and Censorship. For details of the latest additional resources, please refer to the Resources section of the online version of the guide. This printable version of the guide will be updated every August. Contents History ...............................................................................................................................1 Cinema .......................................................................................................................1 Video ..........................................................................................................................1 1912 - 1949 ................................................................................................................2 the 1950s ...................................................................................................................7 the 1960s .................................................................................................................10 the 1970s .................................................................................................................12 the 1980s .................................................................................................................14 the 1990s .................................................................................................................17 2000 - 2005 ..............................................................................................................19 The History of the Category System (table) ............................................................22 Legislation ......................................................................................................................23 Introduction ..............................................................................................................23 Film: Licensing Legislation .......................................................................................24 The Criminal Law .....................................................................................................25 The Video Recordings Act .......................................................................................27 Other Legislation ......................................................................................................30 Classification ...................................................................................................................32 Overview ..................................................................................................................32 Issues ................................................................................................................33 Violence .............................................................................................................34 Language ...........................................................................................................36 Sex .....................................................................................................................37 Sexual Violence .................................................................................................37 Drugs .................................................................................................................38 Horror.................................................................................................................39 Imitable Technique .............................................................................................40 Racial Issues......................................................................................................40 Cuts ..........................................................................................................................41 Controversial Decisions ...........................................................................................42 Rejects and Appeals ................................................................................................43 BBFC Guidelines .....................................................................................................44 Further Information ........................................................................................................45 Finances ..................................................................................................................45 Other Roles ..............................................................................................................45 Education .................................................................................................................46 Structure ..................................................................................................................47 Administrative Staff ..................................................................................................48 Packaging ................................................................................................................48 Consumer Advice .....................................................................................................49 -i-
  3. 3. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification History: Introduction The British Board of Film Classification is an independent, non-governmental body, which has exercised responsibilities over cinema for more than ninety years, and over video since 1985. Cinema The British Board of Film Censors was established in 1912 by the film industry when local authorities started to impose their own, widely varying, censorship standards on films. The Board was set up in order to bring a degree of uniformity to those standards. The object was to create a body which could make judgements that were acceptable nationally. To this end the Board has needed to earn the trust of the local authorities, Parliament, the press and the public. It must not only be independent, but be seen to be so, taking care, for example, that the film industry does not influence its decisions, and that, similarly, pressure groups and the media do not determine its standards. Statutory powers on film remain with the local councils, which may overrule any of the Board’s decisions on appeal, passing films we reject, banning films we have passed, and even waiving cuts, instituting new ones, or altering categories for films exhibited under their own licensing jurisdiction. However, by the mid 1920s it had become general practice for local authorities to accept the decisions of the Board. Video In 1984 Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act. This act stated that, subject to certain exemptions, video recordings offered for sale or hire in the UK must be classified by an authority designated by the Secretary of State. The following year the President and Vice Presidents of the BBFC were so designated, and charged with applying the new test of ‘suitability for viewing in the home’. At this point the Board’s title was changed to the British Board of Film Classification to reflect the fact that classification plays a far larger part in the Board’s work than censorship. -1-
  4. 4. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History 1912 – 1949 In the past, the BBFC did not have any written rules or code of practice like the Motion Picture Production Code, introduced in Hollywood by the Hays Office in 1930. Policy evolved along practical lines, whilst seeking to reflect public attitudes. Since 2000, the BBFC has operated under a series of published Guidelines, available on the BBFC’s websites. These Guidelines are flexible and stress the importance of taking into consideration the context of each individual work. They are reviewed on a regular basis, which entails a period of extensive public consultation, the most recent of which took place in 2004. Standards have evolved throughout the Board’s ninety year history, and current concerns and practices can be found in the sections on the classification process and classification issues. This section will focus on key moments in the evolution of current standards and the development of the category system. It must be stressed that shifts in standards are linked to external changes - new legislation, developments in technology, the social and historical climate of the period, and the accompanying changes in social attitudes. This evolution must therefore be examined in the wider cultural and historical context. Here are some key stages in the Board’s early history. 1916 - T. P. O’CONNOR When T. P. O’Connor was appointed President of the BBFC, one of his first tasks was to give evidence to the Cinema Commission of Inquiry, set up by the National Council of Public Morals in 1916. He summarised the Board’s Policy by listing forty-three grounds for deletion laid down for the guidance of examiners. This list was drawn from the Board’s annual reports for 1913-1915. The list shows the strictness felt necessary if the Board was to earn the trust of the public and relevant bodies. 1. Indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles and subtitles 2. Cruelty to animals 3. The irreverent treatment of sacred subjects 4. Drunken scenes carried to excess 5. Vulgar accessories in the staging 6. The modus operandi of criminals 7. Cruelty to young infants and excessive cruelty and torture to adults, especially women 8. Unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing 9. The exhibition of profuse bleeding 10. Nude figures 11. Offensive vulgarity, and impropriety in conduct and dress 12. Indecorous dancing 13. Excessively passionate love scenes 14. Bathing scenes passing the limits of propriety 15. References to controversial politics 16. Relations of capital and labour -4-
  5. 5. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued 17. Scenes tending to disparage public characters and institutions 18. Realistic horrors of warfare 19. Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy 20. Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies 21. Scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt or ridicule 22. Subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise attempting to suggest the disloyalty of British Officers, Native States or bringing into disrepute British prestige in the Empire 23. The exploitation of tragic incidents of the war 24. Gruesome murders and strangulation scenes 25. Executions 26. The effects of vitriol throwing 27. The drug habit. e.g. opium, morphia, cocaine, etc 28. Subjects dealing with White Slave traffic 29. Subjects dealing with premeditated seduction of girls 30. ‘First Night’ scenes 31. Scenes suggestive of immorality 32. Indelicate sexual situations 33. Situations accentuating delicate marital relations 34. Men and women in bed together 35. Illicit relationships 36. Prostitution and procuration 37. Incidents indicating the actual perpetration of criminal assaults on women 38. Scenes depicting the effect of venereal disease, inherited or acquired 39. Incidents suggestive of incestuous relations 40. Themes and references relative to ‘race suicide’ 41. Confinements 42. Scenes laid in disorderly houses 43. Materialization of the conventional figure of Christ -5-
  6. 6. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued THE YEARS BETWEEN THE WARS During this period the kind of material that caused concern included horror and gangster films, as well as those that dealt with aspects of sexuality. Some councils were beginning to bar children from films classified ‘A’, even when they had been cut by the BBFC to achieve a certificate. For example, the London County Council (LCC) and Manchester City Council (MCC) banned children from Frankenstein (1931), although a sequence in which the monster drowns a small girl had already been cut. In response to such material, the advisory category ‘H’ (for horror) was agreed in 1932, to indicate the potential unsuitability for children of the horror theme. 1948 - ARTHUR WATKINS Arthur Watkins was appointed Secretary to the Board in 1948, under the Presidency of Sir Sidney Harris. Both men had come from the Home Office, and Watkins was also a successful playwright. Many film-makers sought the Board’s advice on scripts before films went into production. Watkins and Harris formulated new terms of reference for the Board based on three principles: • was the story, incident or dialogue likely to impair the moral standards of the public by extenuating vice or crime or depreciating moral standards? • Was it likely to give offence to reasonably minded cinema audiences? • What effect would it have on children? The effect on children was of major importance since, apart from the advisory ‘H’ category, from which some councils already chose to bar children, there was no category that excluded children. An ‘adults only’ category was increasingly seen as desirable, not only to protect children, but as an extension of the freedom of film-makers to treat adult subjects in an adult fashion. Related sbbfc Case Study: Battleship Potemkin -6-
  7. 7. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued the 1950s The Fifties saw the end of rationing and a gradual increase in prosperity for those who, as Prime Minister MacMillan stated, “have never had it so good”. One development that stemmed from this apparent affluence was the emergence of ‘youth’ as a group with a defined identity and as a target for consumer goods, as young people with disposable income became an attractive proposition for those selling records, clothes and all the trappings of the teenager. Controversial subjects on film were accommodated in the UK under the new ‘X’ category, introduced in 1951and incorporating the former advisory ‘H’ category given to horror films. As the growth of television ownership eroded the adult/family cinema audience, films like Rock Around The Clock (1956) drew teenage audiences. Cut for U, this film caused rioting in cinemas and fuelled increasing concern about teenage criminality, although there was in fact no evidence of a teenage crime wave as suggested by the popular Press. The new ‘X’ category, which excluded children under 16, was sufficient to contain the cynical La Ronde, Max Ophuls’ 1951 film about a chain of sexual encounters. Records suggest that the film was cut, unsurprising in an era when the Board was disinclined to relinquish its role as protector of public morals, to the extent that even in 1956 dialogue cuts were made to Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles Of A Summer Night because the sex references were considered too risqué. Concerns about what were then known as juvenile delinquents delayed the classification of Laslo Benedek’s 1954 film, The Wild One, for thirteen years because the Board described the contents as ‘a spectacle of unbridled hooliganism’. Marlon Brando stars as the leader of a biker gang who rides into a small American town and creates mayhem, fighting with a rival gang leader and defying adult authority. Repeated attempts were made to secure a classification, and eventually some local authorities overturned the Board’s rejection, allowing local releases. The riots in English seaside towns involving Mods and Rockers, (Margate and Clacton in 1964), were cited as providing justification for the Board’s continuing objections to the film. The Board maintained its stance until 1967, when the dangers associated with the film’s release were judged to be over. Nicholas Ray’s 1955 Rebel Without A Cause also ran into trouble because of its depiction of what the Board considered to be anti-social behaviour and teen violence, but substantial cuts were agreed for the film’s release at ‘X’. In the same year, Richard Brook’s The Blackboard Jungle was submitted. The film followed the progress of a dedicated teacher assigned to a tough class of adolescents in a New York urban school. The first reaction of the BBFC’s Secretary, Arthur Watkins, was to reject it, on the grounds that ‘filled as it is with scenes of unbridled revolting hooliganism (it) would, if shown in this country, provoke the strongest criticism from parents... and would have the most damaging and harmful effect on... young people’. The film was withdrawn from the Venice Film Festival after pressure from the US ambassador to Italy, who felt that it presented an unflattering impression of American schools. The rejection decision was challenged by MGM, the distributor, and the film was viewed again by the Board President which resulted in another rejection, although the artistic merits of the film were acknowledged and cuts were considered. A series of negotiations then began, resulting in substantial cuts for an ‘X’ certificate. -7-
  8. 8. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued 1955 also saw the rejection of a very different film, The Garden Of Eden, about a mother and daughter who decide to become nudists. The film only showed bare breasts and buttocks, but the film was regarded as unacceptable, the BBFC having had a long-standing policy against screen nudity, partly on the grounds that if they encouraged more nudity on screen, they would be inviting sexual exploitation. However, a large number of local authorities saw fit to overturn the BBFC decision, to the extent that in 1958, the Board was obliged to classify the film at ‘A’. The topic of drugs exercised the BBFC to a considerable degree during the decade. Devil’s Weed was rejected in 1951, because the Board felt that the moral lessons about the evils of drugs use were not made sufficiently clear. In 1954, however, the Board passed L’Esclave, another film dealing with the subject of drugs, albeit with cuts. 1955 saw the submission of Otto Preminger’s The Man With The Golden Arm, a story about a recovering drug addict who is lured back into his habit. The Home Office had made it known that they had no objection to films dealing with the subject of addiction, provided that drug-taking was not seen to be attractive. That the profits from dealing were not emphasised. Given this basis, the Board felt able to offer an ‘X’ in 1956 with cuts to details of drug-preparation and some incidental violence. It is interesting to note that while the film had a fairly smooth passage past the Board in the UK, it met with problems with the Production Code in the USA, where the theme of drugs in films was proscribed by the MPAA. The Code was amended in 1956 to allow for the treatment of narcotics as a theme. The video was later classified at ‘15’. In the same year, Lee Thompson’s Yield To The Night was passed uncut at ‘X’. The Board read both the novel on which the film is based, and the script, before the coincidental execution in 1956 of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK for murder, but the theme of capital punishment for women was much on the public agenda. The film tells the story of a woman who murders out of jealousy, and dwells on the last weeks before the death sentence is carried out. Examiners expressed concerns at an early stage about how such a theme might be handled, and even before the film was scripted Arthur Watson was warning the distributor that an ‘X’ certificate was the most likely outcome, and only if the treatment was discreet. The distributor argued strongly for an ‘A’ category at the script stage and the Board’s examiners considered whether there was any possibility of an ‘A’, but felt that parents of girls aged between 12 and16 would not endorse such a decision. The film was passed ‘X’ and it remains a ‘15’ on video. -8-
  9. 9. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued The year 1956 also saw the resignation of Arthur Watkins, who was replaced for the next two years as Secretary by John Nichols. In 1958 John Trevelyan became Board Secretary. The upheaval in social and class barriers that followed the war is reflected in films like Jack Clayton’s Room At The Top (1958), a film that generated much amicable negotiation between John Trevelyan and Romulus Films on the language used in the film. The BBFC required the removal of ‘lust’ and ‘bitch’ from the dialogue, and also required a softening of the words used to describe the death of a female character in a car accident. It was clear that Trevelyan wished to establish the ‘X’ category for serious adult British films - the category that had previously been used mostly for horror and continental films. However, the American League of Decency attacked the film, describing it as involving ‘gross suggestiveness and costuming, dialogue and situations. It moreover tends to arouse undue sympathy for an adulteress’. The video version is currently classified at ‘15’. At the end of the decade came Beat Girl, a sort of UK equivalent of Rebel Without A Cause, starring Adam Faith. The Board was not impressed with the script for this film about a teenage girl who seeks to rebel against her father by hanging around with a bad crowd in Soho and considers becoming a stripper. The script was judged to be ‘the product of squalid and illiterate minds’ and several amendments were made before it was cut for ‘X’. It is now classified ‘12’ on video, having lost its appeal to shock. -9-
  10. 10. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued the 1960s THE 60s AND LIBERALISATION Challenges to the Obscene Publications Act (1959), in cases such as the successful defence in 1960 of D. H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, suggested a strong shift in public opinion, when a jury acquitted this work. John Trevelyan, as Secretary to the Board, responded to the new spirit of liberalism by stating: “The British Board of Film Censors cannot assume responsibility for the guardianship of public morality. It cannot refuse for exhibition to adults films that show behaviour that contravenes the accepted moral code, and it does not demand that ‘the wicked’ should also be punished. It cannot legitimately refuse to pass films which criticise ‘the Establishment’ and films which express minority opinions”. However, the decade began with a challenge in the form of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, which had been seen by the Board at the script stage and provoked a remark from Trevelyan about its ‘morbid concentration on fear’. Various cuts had been suggested at script stage, and the film was passed ‘X’ in 1960 with cuts. Critics greeted the film with a torrent of abuse and it failed to please the public, damaging Powell’s reputation. New realism took hold in British films, with the submission of a number of ‘kitchen sink’ dramas from the British New Wave directors - Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night And Sunday Morning in 1960, Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner in 1962, both passed ‘X’, the latter with cuts. Saturday Night... had been submitted to the Board at script stage. Concerns were expressed about the language, violence and the theme of abortion, and the script was modified to meet these concerns This might have been the ‘swinging Sixties’, but in spite of the film’s BBFC uncut release at ‘X’, Warwickshire Council deemed it too strong and demanded that cuts be made for a local certificate. By 1966, Lewis Gilbert’s Alfie was passed uncut, with the remark that it contained a ‘basically moral theme’ in spite of some misgivings at the Board about the abortion theme. Attitiudes to sexuality were on the change in the wake of the 1957 Wolfenden Report which recommended a relaxation of the laws concerning homosexuality, although no new legislation was to appear for another ten years. Trevelyan claimed that the BBFC had never banned the subject of homosexuality from the screen but ‘the subject was one that would probably not be acceptable to the British audience’. Basil Dearden’s Victim contributed to the debate in 1961, containing the line ‘they call the law against homosexuality the blackmailer’s charter’. The film was passed ‘X’ with a brief cut. As public tolerance increased in the sweeping social change of the sixties, films became more explicit, but in practice the Board still requested cuts, usually to verbal and visual ‘indecency’. Ingmar Bergman’s 1964 The Silence created a stir because of its treatment of sexual matters . - 10 -
  11. 11. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued After extensive consultation with the distributor and the director, Trevelyan passed the film ‘X’ with 35 seconds of cuts to sex scenes. Similar cuts were made to Ken Loach’s unglamorous tale of a young working-class woman, Poor Cow, passed ‘X’ in 1967 with cuts to sex references. The decade also saw the establishment of the Carry On.. series, characterised by its use of seaside postcard humour, some of which was trimmed for the ‘A’ category - for instance in Carry On Cleo (1964) and Carry On Camping (1969). Violence in Walter Grauman’s Lady In A Cage proved too strong for the Board in 1964 and the film was rejected on the grounds that it could ‘invite and stimulate juvenile violence and anti-social behaviour by young people’. The Greater London Council granted a cut version of the film an ‘X’ certificate. However, there was no holding back the inevitable, and in 1967 Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, with its notorious denouement of the charismatic outlaws being riddled with bullets, was passed ‘X’ uncut in 1967. By the end of the decade in 1969 Sam Pekinpah’s classic Western The Wild Bunch pushed levels of violence still further in spite of some ten seconds of cuts for ‘X’. One of the most commercially successful series of films of the decade began in 1962 with Terence Young’s Dr No, the first of the long running James Bond movies. Passed ‘A’ with cuts, this set a pattern for what followed, with From Russia With Love passed ‘A’ with cuts to sexual innuendo in 1963, Goldfinger passed ‘A’ in 1964 with cuts to nudity and violence, and Thunderball passed ‘A’ in 1965 with a cut to a sexy massage scene. In 1968 Lindsay Anderson’s controversial If..., a metaphorical look at British society through the microcosm of a boys’ public school, proved to be a box-office success. Only one cut was made, not to violence but to male nudity. In the decade of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, The Trip fell foul of BBFC concerns about drugs and was rejected in 1967. This Roger Corman work about the delights and drawbacks of taking LSD was not classified until 35 years had elapsed and it was no longer considered a danger. It was for years the Board’s stance that the film presented LSD use as normal and legitimate, rather than as a dangerous and criminal, practice. It was finally passed ‘18’ on video in 2002 under Guidelines that allowed for a balanced and realistic depiction of class A drugs use at the adult category. - 11 -
  12. 12. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued the 1970s 1970 - CHANGES IN THE CATEGORY SYSTEM During the sixties it was recognised that teenagers had specific concerns of their own which ought to be reflected in the category system. The introduction of the ‘AA’ was finally approved by local authorities and the industry in 1970. The principal changes to the category system were the raising of the minimum age for ‘X’ certificate films from 16 to 18. The old ‘A’ (advisory) category was split to create a new advisory ‘A’ which permitted the admission of children of five years or over whether accompanied or not, but which warned parents that a film in this category would contain some material that parents might prefer their children under fourteen not to see, and a new ‘AA’ certificate which allowed the admission of those over 14, but not under 14, whether accompanied or not. The idea was that this would protect adolescents from material of a specifically adult nature and would permit more adult films to be passed uncut for an older, more mature audience. It recognised the earlier maturity of many teenagers by giving them access to certain films at the age of 14, without being accompanied by an adult. It also indicated to parents the difference between films wholly suitable for children of all ages, which would continue to be classified ‘U’, and those which, while not generally unsuitable, might contain some material which some parents might prefer their children not to see. 70s SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND OTHER CONTROVERSIES A new ratings system in the United States included an uncensored ‘X’ category, left to the sole control of the criminal law. John Trevelyan, the Secretary at the time, was concerned by this: “We are afraid that this will have the effect of giving certain film-makers the opportunity of going much further than they have done in scenes of sex and sexual perversion, since with the protection of an ‘X’ category, they can shed personal responsibility”. The seventies did indeed see the release of a number of provocative films, in particular those that linked sex and violence, for example Straw Dogs (1971), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), both of which contained controversial rape scenes. There were a number of other controversies during the seventies, for example Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), which was accused of blasphemy, Last Tango In Paris (1972), which was accused of being ‘obscene’ and The Exorcist (1973), which was accused of having a psychologically damaging effect on young people. In the case of each of these films, the decision of the BBFC to award an ‘X’ was overturned by a number of local authorities. Pressure groups such as The Festival of Light, and Lord Longford’s Committee on Pornography also placed immense pressure on the BBFC, in a backlash against what was perceived as liberalisation having gone too far. The Festival of Light took out an unsuccessful private prosecution against Last Tango In Paris and mounted a campaign against alleged links between teenage suicide and screenings of The Exorcist. Meanwhile anti-censorship campaigners also continued to criticise the Board, defending cause celebre films such as Andy Warhol’s Trash (1970), which the BBFC had passed only after several cuts. - 12 -
  13. 13. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued Stephen Murphy, who became Secretary of the Board in July 1971, resigned in 1975 and was succeeded by James Ferman. One of the first films Ferman looked at was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which his predecessor had already refused to classify shortly before his departure. Ferman agreed with Murphy that the violence and terrorisation in the film (directed largely towards a woman over a sustained period) was unacceptable. In an early interview, Ferman remarked that it was not the sex that worried him but the violence and, in particular sexual violence. During his time at the BBFC, Ferman permitted increasingly explicit sexual material whilst clamping down on sadistic violence (especially when perpetrated by heros) and sexual violence (particularly where it seemed that the portrayal of rapes and assaults were intended as a ‘turn on’ to viewers). Ferman’s attitudes and policies reflected a more general shift of public concern during the 1970s, away from arguments about the explicitness of screen representations towards a consideration of any possible corrupting influence. This has been understood more and more in terms of whether the viewer is encouraged to enjoy the pain of victims of violence, and, often, sexual violence. Prior to 1977 the Obscene Publications Act did not apply to cinema films and films were judged on the basis of whether any individual scene might be considered ‘indecent’, regardless of context. Notably, this led to the seizure of Pasolini’s Salo from a Soho cinema club in 1976 on the grounds that it was ‘indecent’ (the BBFC itself had refused to classify the film on exactly these grounds). However, the extension of the OPA to films in 1977 gave the BBFC more latitude when considering depictions of sex in films since they now had to be considered ‘as a whole’. Therefore, the BBFC was able to waive, in 1978, a cut for sexual explicitness made in 1973 to Last Tango In Paris. On the other hand, the OPA required that the Board consider whether a scene might deprave and corrupt its likely audience. Therefore, in 1978, the BBFC demanded that an additional cut should be made to the sex film Emmanuelle, (originally pased ‘X’ in 1974) to remove a rape scene that, although not ‘indecent’, might deprave and corrupt viewers by suggesting that rape was erotic and could teach the victim a valuable ‘lesson’. Related sbbfc Case Study: Straw Dogs A Clockwork Orange The Devils The Exorcist Last Tango In Paris The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 13 -
  14. 14. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued the 1980s The decade started in dramatic fashion for the BBFC with the submission of Tinto Brass’ Caligula. The film has respectable antecedents, being based on The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, and a screenplay by Gore Vidal. Original producer Franco Rossellini approached Penthouse mogul Bob Guccione for financial support. Tinto Brass was hired as director. The stars were familiar and respected names - Sir John Guilgud, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren. Problems occured after shooting, with Brass being fired and Vidal protesting that his screen play bore little relationship to what was on screen. He dissociated himself from the film and attempted to have his name removed from the credits. Guccione then added some material of his own, some of it hard-core pornography. The film achieved notoreity in the USA and arrived in the UK with the reputation of being ‘the most controversial film of the eighties’. It was seized by Customs and Excise officials when it came into the UK and then seen by the BBFC together with lawyers and Customs officials so that any footage that was in danger of breaching UK laws could be removed. At this stage all sexually explicit material was removed in order to conform with Customs regulations (specifically the Customs Act 1876), and further cuts made to material which was potentially actionable under the Obscene Publications Act - the later including sexually violent material. The cut film was then viewed again by the Board, who had already indicated that further cuts to sex and violence would be necessary in order to secure a nation-wide release under BBFC ‘X’ category standards. Some innocuous material was added to restore some dialogue which had been lost when the cuts were made. After six months the film was finally released in the UK with an ‘X’ certificate, and while the majority of local authorities were content with the certificate, it was banned in some areas. Inevitably, there was some orchestrated protest from concerned citizens who had not seen the film, but because the Board had taken every precaution to ensure that the classification was within the law, the fuss died down. The video was classified ‘18’ when it was submitted in 1990 in a greatly reduced version, having been cut by a further 50 minutes by its distributors in addition to the cuts made for cinema release. Throughout the decade there were a number of films involving gangland characters. 1981 saw the release of Tom Clegg’s McVicar, a criminal biopic passed ‘X’; and John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday, the story of a criminal determined to preserve his manor against incursions by the IRA, also passed ‘X’. Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa, was passed ‘18’ in 1986, with Bob Hoskins playing the role of chauffeur to a prostitute. David Green’s Buster, passed ‘15’ in 1988, told the story of Great Train Robber ‘Buster’ Edwards on the run from the law. The decade concluded with Peter Medak’s tale of infamous twin gangland figures, The Krays, passed ‘18’, after cuts to an horrific mutilation scene. - 14 -
  15. 15. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued Another film based on real-life was Michael Caton-Jones’ Scandal, an account of the Profumo affair, a political scandal of the 1960s. Although for some the events were considered too recent for comfort, the problem for the BBFC was of a different kind. An orgy scene revealed the presence of an erect penis in the backgound of the shot. The image was obscured by soft-focus lighting and the film released with an ‘18’ certificate. The first of the Rambo series, First Blood (Ted Kotcheff), was passed ‘15’ uncut in 1982, and the second, George Pan Cosmatos’ Rambo - First Blood Part II was passed ‘15’ uncut in 1985. However, Rambo III was cut in 1988 to obtain an ‘18’ certificate. In addition to a horse-fall removed under the terms of the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, the violence was reduced by the excision of spatter shots, and cuts were made to counteract the glamorisation of weapons which constituted a significant classification issue. Paul Verhoeven’s film Robocop was passed ‘18’ without cuts in 1987, and the same on video a year later. The 2001 video version was submitted with additional material that had been removed by the MPAA before the film was submitted in the UK. However, the Conan films did not have the same easy passage. John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian required cuts to a sex scene between Conan and a serpent-woman, and to remove horse-falls, for an ‘AA’ category in 1982. The second Conan film, Richard Fleischer’s Conan The Destroyer also required horse-fall and animal cruelty cuts in 1984. The decade also saw the establishment of the ‘stalk and slash’ genre with the Friday 13th series of films, with parts I and II passed ‘X’ uncut on film in 1980 and 1981 respectively. Part III was also passed ‘X’ uncut on film in 1982, but with two cuts to violence/horror to obtain an ‘18’ on video in 1987. 1981 saw the second in the Halloween series passed ‘X’ uncut on film, but a scene where a woman was scalded to death in a jacuzzi was reduced for an ‘18’ video release in 1990. The cuts have since been restored. The development of the video recorder created new anxieties about the home viewing of feature films. Legally, there was no requirement that videos should be classified, which meant that films that had not been approved by the BBFC or which were suitable for adults only, were falling into the hands of children. In particular the tabloid press led a campaign against so called ‘video nasties’. This term was not always clearly defined, but there were 70 titles that had either been prosecuted by the DPP under the Obscene Publications Act, or were awaiting prosecution. Some of these were horror films that had never been submitted to the BBFC. Others had been cut for their cinema release, and the video versions sometimes included restored cuts. The outcome of this concern was new legislation, introduced as a private member’s Bill by Conservative MP, Graham Bright. The Video Recordings Act 1984, makes it an offence for a video work to be supplied if it has not been classified, or to supply a classified work to a person under the age specified in the certificate. The Board was designated as the authority with responsibility for classification in 1985, with a consequent increase in staff to deal with a massively increased workload consisting of a backlog of titles already on the market and all new titles (eg in 1986 the Board classified 348 cinema films and 4464 videos works). - 15 -
  16. 16. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued No record of the decade of the so-called ‘video nasties’ would be complete without mention of Sam Raimi’s zombie film, The Evil Dead. This was submitted in 1982 and required 49 seconds of cuts to violence and horror. The video was placed on the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) list and seized, with a number of retailers charged under the Obscene Publications Act - although the work was never tested in court as the retailers pleaded guilty. In 1985 the distributor, Palace Video, was prosecuted and acquitted. The film cuts were increased for the video version in 1990 as a precautionary measure against possible future prosecution, but in 2000 the full version was passed ‘18’ on video. Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer was viewed for information in the early 80s, but not formally submitted until 1999 in a version pre-cut by the distributor by some 54 seconds, acting on advice from the Board’s departing Director, James Ferman. The cuts were suggested because the film had collected various OPA convictions. The full version was submitted on video in 2002 and passed ‘18’ without cuts. The House On The Edge Of The Park (Ruggero Deodato) was rejected by the Board in 1981 for serious violations of the sexual violence standards. It subsequently appeared on the DPP list and was the subject of successful prosecutions under the OPA. It was formally submitted on video for the first time in 2001 and cut for ‘18’. Most of the cuts were made for sexual violence under the BBFC’s Guidelines. When former ‘video nasties’ like those above are submitted to the Board, they are examined under current Guidelines, and their legal history considered. It is usually possible to make cuts to ensure a modern release, although many of them continue to test the Guidelines for sexual violence. 1982 - Review of the category system In 1982 ‘A’ was changed to ‘PG’, ‘AA’ was changed to ‘15’ and ‘X’ became ‘18’. A new category ‘R18’ was introduced which permitted more explicit sex films to be shown in members-only clubs. Previously, such clubs had shown material unclassified by the BBFC, but a change in the law closed this loophole. Since the mid 1980s most ‘R18’ material is released on video, only available from a limited number of sex shops which must be specially licensed by local authorities. Further changes to the category system in the 80s In 1985, at the request of the industry, the ‘Uc’ was introduced for video only, to identify works specifically suitable for very young children to watch alone. In 1989 the BBFC introduced the ‘12’ certificate on film, to bridge the huge gap between ‘PG’ and ‘15’. This was extended to video in 1994. The first film to be given a ‘12’ rating was Batman. Related sbbfc Case Study: The Evil Dead Cannibal Holocaust - 16 -
  17. 17. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued the 1990s Video Legislation Despite the statutory regulation of video since 1984, public concern about the influence of videos has continued and there have been periodic calls for stricter standards, most notably following the Jamie Bulger case. The trial judge linked this murder of a two year-old by two ten year-old boys to the viewing of violent videos, with the media singling out the horror video Child’s Play 3 (1991). Though subsequent enquiries refuted this connection, public opinion rallied behind calls for stricter regulation. Parliament supported an amendment to the Video Recordings Act, contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which requires the Board to consider specific issues, and the potential for harm, when making video classification decisions. The Board has always been stricter on video than on film. This is partly because younger people are more likely to gain access to videos with restrictive categories than such films at the cinema (where admissions can be screened). But it is also because, on video, scenes can be taken out of context, and particular moments can be replayed. At the time that the new legislation was being discussed and implemented, the BBFC was being asked to look at a number of extremely violent and drug-filled films, which further fuelled the debate about media effects. While the Board waited to see what form the Criminal Justice Act would take, decisions on the video releases of Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Bad Lieutenant, Dirty Weekend and Menace II Society were held up, although all five films were eventually classified, in some cases with additional cuts, reflecting the requirements of the new tests. Perhaps the film that provoked the most controversy at the time was Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, whose video release was held up by its own distributor (despite having been classified by the BBFC) until 2001. More details of this can be found in the relevant case study. Other controversies In 1995 further controversy erupted about Larry Clark’s film Kids, which some critics described as ‘child pornography’. The BBFC considered the film very carefully and, after seeking proof of age for all the actors concerned (all the main performers were in fact over 18), minor cuts were made to two scenes featuring younger performers in situtations that might be considered ‘indecent’ under the Protection of Children Act. Not long after the release of Kids in 1996, there were calls for the banning of David Cronenberg’s film, Crash. Once again, the BBFC considered the film very carefully - including screening the film for lawyers and for a group of disabled people - but found that there was no case to answer. The film was passed ‘18’ uncut. In 1997 the BBFC’s President, Lord Harewood, stepped down after 12 years in the job. His replacement, Andreas Whittam Smith, announced his intention to steer the BBFC towards a greater ‘openness and accountability’. This included the publication of the BBFC’s first set of classification guidelines in 1998, following a series of public ‘roadshows’ in which public views were canvassed and the launching of a BBFC website. - 17 -
  18. 18. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued Digital Media The 1990s also saw rapid developments in the world of computer games, which seemed to become more realistic and sophisticated with each passing year. Although the majority of video games were automatically exempt from classification, those that featured realistic violence against humans or animals, or human sexual activity, did come under the scope of the Video Recordings Act. From 1994 the BBFC started to receive some of the stronger video games for formal classification, which necessitated a different way of examining (because it was impossible to see everything that might happen in a game). In 1997, for the first time, the BBFC refused a certificate to the game Carmageddon, on the grounds that it encouraged anti-social behaviour. This decision was later overturned on appeal, subject to the proviso that the game must be fitted with a parental lock to prevent it being accessed by children. 1999 – Robin Duval Robin Duval became the Director on the retirement of James Ferman who had held the position since 1975. Standards continued to evolve, with due consideration of recent relevant research, shifts in public attitudes, and the developments in comparable media such as terrestrial, satellite and cable television and the internet. For example, The Exorcist (1973) was given an ‘X’ classification for cinema release in 1974. The video was available in the early 1980s before the Video Recordings Act made video classification statutory, but in the wake of concerns about the disturbing effect that the film apparently had on a small minority of impressionable young people, it was decided that a video classification was not possible under the terms of the 1984 Act. In 1999, the Board re-examined the issues, in particular the perceived harm that under-age viewing might cause. It was decided that in view of changing public attitudes and the increased media sophistication of young viewers, the video was unlikely to prove harmful to the majority of the likely audience and it was accordingly classified ‘18’ uncut. 1999 also saw the removal of the BBFC’s controversial policy on oriental weaponry (most notably chainsticks), originally implemented by Stephen Murphy in the early 1970s but continued zealously by James Ferman. Whilst the refusal to allow sight of exotic - and potentially easily manufactured - weaponry had been a reaction to real concerns back in the 1970s (when Kung Fu films and martial arts shops had been at their height of their popularity) a total prohibition on sight of such weapons was no longer considered necessary or particularly constructive. Such weapons were less prevalent than they had been in the past (largely as a result of changing fashions) and information on them was in any case widely available in books, magazines and on the internet. Furthermore, the skill required to handle chainsticks effectively was likely to require more time and practice than most potential offenders would be prepared to invest (it was much easier to use a knife), especially for such a ‘dated’ and unfashionable weapon. Emphasis was accordingly changed from removing all evidence of unusual weapons towards a policy of being concerned about the glamorisation of any weapons (but especially knives), particularly at the junior categories. This paved the way for the eagerly anticipated (by his fans) release of the uncut version of all Bruce Lee’s films in the 2000s. Related sbbfc Case Study: Natural Born Killers Crash The Exorcist - 18 -
  19. 19. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued 2000 - 2005 New Guidelines 2000 In 1999, the Board embarked on an extensive consultation process to gauge public opinion before the compilation of new Classification Guidelines. The process involved a series of public presentations across the UK, two Citizens’ Juries, surveys and questionnaires. The film and video industry and other interested groups also contributed their views. The major outcomes were that the depiction of drugs and drugs use was the cause of greatest concern to parents, as was the issue of violence in the lower classification categories. Use of bad language on screen provoked a range of responses, reflecting varying tolerances in the general public. Portrayal of sexual activity, however caused less concern than previously. Details of this consultation process are available in Sense and Sensibilities: Public Opinion and the BBFC Guidelines. Controversy In 1999 the BBFC had received three European films that challenged the Board’s standards on sex. These were The Idiots, Romance and Seul Contre Tous. All three films contained scenes of unsimultated sex that would not normally have been be acceptable at ‘18’. In the case of Seul Contre Tous it was decided that the images in question were too explicit - and of too great a duration - to be acceptable at ‘18’ and the images were removed. However, in the cases of Romance and The Idiots, it was decided that the comparative brevity of the images, combined with the serious intentions of the films, meant that both films could be passed without cuts. This was in line with earlier ‘exceptional’ decisions in the cases of WR - Mysteries Of The Organism (passed ‘X’ uncut in 1972) and L’Empire des Sense (passed ‘18’ uncut in 1991). However, as the Board moved into the new millennium it soon became clear that these were not to be isolated examples. A whole generation of European film makers seemed determined to push the boundaries of what was sexually acceptable on the screen. Fortunately, the 1999-2000 consultation exercise had revealed a general desire on the part of the public that the BBFC should relax its attitudes to sex at ‘15’ and ‘18’. Accordingly the new guidelines stated that real sex may be permitted at ‘18’ in the future, provided that the images were exceptionally justified by context (ie not purely there for titillation). This policy was put to the test by a number of films from 2000 onwards, including Intimacy, Dog Days and The Piano Teacher, all of which were passed ‘18’ uncut. However, once sexual violence entered the equation, things became more complicated. Baise-moi (2001) included not only scenes of explicit sex but also a horrifying rape scene, which incorporated explicit detail. Although the Board was prepared to accept the explicit sex elsewhere in the film, and judged that the rape scene was sufficiently aversive to be acceptable, the use of explicit images during the assault itself was considered to lend a pornographic quality to the scene that might have the effect of arousing some viewers. Accordingly a single cut was required. - 19 -
  20. 20. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued The issue of sexual violence was also at the heart of an appeal against the BBFC’s decision on The Last House On The Left. Rejected by the BBFC for cinema release in 1974 and again in 2000 (after the distributor declined to make cuts), Wes Craven’s notorious ‘video nasty’ was submitted for video/DVD release in 2001. When the BBFC requested that cuts should be made to reduce scenes of eroticised sexual violence (linking sex together with violence in a potentially harmful way) the distributor refused to comply and took the BBFC’s decision to the independent Video Appeals Committee (VAC). The VAC universally upheld the Board’s decision to require cuts, providing a robust endorsement of the BBFC’s strict policy on sexual violence. The DCMS and Ofcom In June 2001, governmental responsibility for film and video classification moved from the Home Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Ofcom is the new regulator for television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services. The regulation of films, videos and DVDs does not fall under Ofcom’s remit and remains the responsibility of the BBFC. The BBFC is still the only regulator which regulates before the material is seen by the public. The ‘12A’ rating In 2002, the new ‘12A’ category replaced the ‘12’ category for film only, and allows children under 12 to see a ‘12A’ film, provided that they are accompanied throughout by an adult. The decision to introduce this new category was taken after a pilot scheme and research had been conducted to assess public reaction. The new category was also conditional on the provision and publication of Consumer Advice for ‘12A’ films. The Board considers ‘12A’ films to be suitable for audiences OVER the age of 12, but acknowledges that parents know best whether their children younger than 12 can cope with a particular film. The first ‘12A’ film was The Bourne Identity. For more information about the ‘12A’ rating see the Spider-Man case study. Consumer Advice While the BBFC has been producing Consumer Advice for films which appeared on the website, it was the introduction of the ‘12A’ category which saw it making its appearance on film posters, TV advertisements and in cinema listings for ‘12A’ films. A single line of information about the film’s content indicates what viewers can expect to encounter in the film and therefore why it was given the rating it was. This is particularly helpful for parents deciding what films are suitable for their children, and in particular whether to take children younger than 12 to a ‘12A’ film. In 2004, the majority of film distributors agreed to include the Consumer Advice in publicity for all films. - 20 -
  21. 21. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued Robin Duval’s retirement In late 2004, David Cooke was appointed Director, following Robin Duval’s retirement. The first film David Cooke had to consider was Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs, described by some commentators as ‘the most sexually explicit film in the history of British cinema’. Whilst this description might well be accurate, the Board’s decision to classify it at ‘18’ uncut was in line with previous decisions on various European films. The BBFC’s Guidelines do not distinguish between films on the basis of their language or country of origin. However, given that the film was in the English language and had been made by a well known British film-maker, it achieved a wider release and attracted more attention than previous explicit films such as Romance and The Idiots. New Guidelines 2005 On 9 February 2005, the BBFC published a new set of Guidelines based on an even more extensive research programme than the one which resulted in the 2000 Guidelines. Over 11,000 people contributed their views on the BBFC’s Guidelines, 7000 more than in 1999/2000. Public support for the BBFC went up from 59% in 2000 to 63% in 2004. The outcomes of the research can be found in BBFC Guideline Research - Public Opinion and the BBFC Guidelines. Educational Websites Following the arrival in 2003 of www.cbbfc.co.uk - ‘Children’s BBFC’, an educational website created by the BBFC with the aim of helping primary school children better understand Film and DVD classification, this website, sbbfc, (Students’ BBFC) was launched in June 2005. Whilst aimed primarily at Media and Film Studies students and their teachers, the site holds appeal to anyone interested in the subject of Media Regulation and the history of censorship in the UK. Related sbbfc Case Study: Spider-Man - 21 -
  22. 22. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Student Guide - History continued THE HISTORY OF THE CATEGORY SYSTEM Year Media Unrestricted Advisory Restrictive Category Category Category 1913 film U - Universal A - more suitable for adults None (no film certified that was not clean and wholesome) 1921 film London County Council - no entrance to young people at ‘A’ films, except with parent or guardian 1932 film H - indicated horror and was advisory 1951 film X - incorporated old ‘H’ and limited audience to those over 16 years 1970 film U - Universal A - advisory, parents cautioned that AA - admission to children of film may be unsuitable for 14 years or over young children X - raised from 16 to 18 years 1982 film Universal Parental Guidance - general no person under the age viewing but some scenes of 15 to be admitted. may be unsuitable for young children no person under the age of 18 to be admitted. for films containing more explicit sexual depictions 1985 video Universal Parental Guidance - general suitable only for persons particularly viewing but some scenes of 15 years and over. suitable for may be unsuitable for unsupervised young children children suitable only for persons of 18 years and over. Universal restricted to distribution in licensed premises - no one under 18 to be admitted. 1989 video no person under the age of 12 to be admitted 1994 video suitable only for persons of twelve and over. no-one younger than 12 2002 film may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied throughout by an adult - 22 -
  23. 23. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Legislation: Introduction The BBFC is required to consider whether material submitted for classification is likely to infringe the criminal law. The Video Recordings Act (VRA)1984 is the basis upon which the BBFC applies the test of whether a work is suitable for viewing in the home (taking into account the potential for under-age viewing). Linked with this is the consideration of potential harm, whether to the viewer, or to society through the viewer’s behaviour. In particular, works involving the depiction of criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violent or horrific behaviour and human sexual activity are given special regard under the ‘harm’ test. The minority of video games and other digital works that are submitted to the Board for classification are subject to the same level of scrutiny under the VRA as DVDs and videos. Other legal considerations include indecent images of children, animal cruelty, obscenity, racial hatred and human rights. BBFC examiners analyse and make recommendations on the legality of a scene or work in the first instance. Then, if a particular legal question requires a more sophisticated and professional analysis, the Board may seek external expert advice. If a work is found to contain material which falls foul of UK law, then it should be cut from the work. If the work as a whole is found to be in breach of the law, then it may be denied a certificate and rejected. - 23 -
  24. 24. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Film: Licensing Legislation At the cinema, the ultimate power lies with the local authorities, who can decide to ignore the Board’s decisions at any time. In practice this rarely happens, although in 2002 before the new ‘12A’ category was introduced, several local authorities gave local ‘PG’ or ‘PG12’ certificates to Spider-Man in spite of the fact that the BBFC rating was a ‘12’. Local authorities grant licences to the cinemas in their area. When a cinema applies for a licence it must include a condition requiring the admission of children to any film to normally be restricted in accordance with BBFC classification categories. In particular circumstances, the local authority can place their own restrictions on a film - that is change the BBFC rating - or even ‘ban’ the film. It is a licensing offence for cinema managers to allow children into films with an age restriction. Film distributors can always ask a local authority for a certificate for a film banned by the BBFC, or a local category for a film that the Board has not classified. Cinematograph Act 1909 • Introduces licensing of cinemas • Originally for safety (from fire) in cinemas • Statutory control lies with local authorities • BBFC set up by Industry in 1912 to standardise decisions Cinematograph Act 1952 • Prohibited children from ‘unsuitable’ films. The mandatory ‘X’ certificate was introduced at around the same time • Most local authorities use Home Office Guidelines including: no exhibition of film without certificate; cinema box office to act as age bar; the certificate must appear in advertising at the cinema entrance and on screen immediately before the film is shown; no film to be exhibited if licensing authority gives writted notice prohibiting its exhibition Cinematograph Act (Amendment) Act 1982 • Required that cinema clubs promoted for private gain must be licensed Cinemas Act 1985 • Consolidated the legislation 2003 Licensing Act • BBFC named for the first time in cinema legislation • If local councils overrule the BBFC or make their own decisions, they must have a published policy in place - 24 -
  25. 25. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification The Criminal Law The BBFC may not pass any material likely to infringe the criminal law: The Obscene Publications Act 1959 and 1964 The Obscene Publications Act (OPA) was extended to include films and videos in 1977. Prior to that the only legal test applied to films was the much vaguer test of common law indecency. Under the OPA a film may be deemed obscene when, taken as a whole, the work has a tendency to ‘deprave and corrupt’ a significant proportion of those likely to see it. It is important to note that a film must be considered as a whole and that individual scenes must not be judged out of the wider context of the complete work. Even a film that would normally be considered obscene can be shown if ‘it is in the interests of science, literature, art or learning or of other objects of general concern’. Crash (1996) was accused by its critics of being obscene, but no prosecution was brought. Indeed, a leading QC gave his opinion that the film was not obscene. Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 This law was passed in response to widespread public concern about the mistreatment of animals on film sets, especially in Westerns. Its intention was to prohibit the exhibition of films that had involved the deliberate infliction of cruelty by film makers, in order to encourage them to use more humane techniques. The Act prohibits the exhibition or supply of a film if animals have been cruelly mistreated for the purposes of making the film by: • the cruel infliction of pain or terror • the cruel goading of any animal to fury Cuts made under this legislation most commonly include head-over-heels horse falls, which may break the horse’s neck, and cock-fights orchestrated by the film makers. The Act does not however prohibit documentary footage of cruelty, or scenes, even if set up for the film, depicting swift humane killings. The test is one of cruelty rather than killing. Protection of Children Act 1978 The Protection of Children Act 1978 was passed to prohibit the manufacture, distribution, showing and advertisement of indecent images of children under 16. Existing legislation (such as the Obscene Publications Act) already prohibited the distribution of images of under 16s engaged in sexual acts. However, the OPA was felt to be insufficient to deal with milder but still exploitative ‘erotic’ images of children that were entering the UK from the continent. Additionally, the OPA concerned itself only with the effect that images might have upon the viewer, rather than the effect that the creation of such images might have on young participants. The intention of the new Act was to prevent the exploitation of children for indecent purposes altogether. Unlike the OPA, it did not allow context or other justifications to be taken into account. - 25 -
  26. 26. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification The Criminal Law continued Indecency is not defined by the legislation but case law suggests that ‘indecency’ should be taken as something that ‘offends the ordinary modesty of the average man’. Mere nudity is not of itself considered indecent unless there is some lewdness involved. A shot of a child in the same frame as adults engaged in sexual activity may also be considered to be indecent. Where the Board considers an image may constitute an ‘indecent photograph’ it will usually seek to establish the age of the person involved, if there is any doubt, and may also seek expert legal opinion. In 1988 the law was strengthened further by the Criminal Justice Act, which made the possession of indecent images of children illegal. In 1994, in response to advances in computer technology, the law was further strengthened by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which made illegal the creation, distribution and possession of ‘pseudo-photographs’ of children. A ‘pseudo- photograph’ must involve an image of an actual child that has been doctored, such as a photograph depicting a child’s head on an adult’s body. Animated images are not covered by the Act as they did not involve the exploitation of an actual child in their creation. However, the BBFC may still take issue with such images under the terms of the Video Recordings Act if it is felt that harm might arise from their distribution (eg by assisting paedophiles in ‘grooming’ children or by stimulating a sexual interest in children). More recently, The Sexual Offences Act 2003 raised the original definition of a child, which was previously a person under 16 years of age, to include persons under 18 years of age. This change might affect new classifications of works featuring images of persons aged 16 or 17 which were passed before the Sexual Offences Act came into force. - 26 -
  27. 27. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification The Video Recordings Act (VRA) 1984 Background Video recorders were first introduced in the UK in 1978. At the time there was no legislation governing what could be released on video or to whom video recordings could be supplied. Initially the major distributors were wary of releasing their films on video because they felt video tapes might have an adverse effect on cinema revenues. This left the market open for smaller distributors who, in most cases, could only afford to release low budget material, including horror and pornography. Because there was no legislation governing video recordings, these companies were therefore able to release films that had not been submitted to the BBFC for cinema release, uncut versions of films that had been cut by the BBFC and even films that had been refused a certificate altogether by the BBFC. Some of the films released contained scenes that would be in contravention of UK laws on animal cruelty and obscenity. Even more worrying was the fact that such films were available, in theory at least, to children of any age. Public and political concern increased in 1982 with the release of films such as SS Experiment Camp, Cannibal Holocaust, Snuff and The Driller Killer. Quite apart from the content of the films, the advertising for them seemed calculated to cause offense and controversy. The BBFC responded by introducing a voluntary scheme for classifying video recordings. Although the major companies - who were now beginning to release their films on video - were happy to submit titles for classification, the smaller companies were under no obligation to follow suit. Therefore the voluntary system was unable to remove what were seen as the worst examples from the shelves. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) reponded by issuing a list of videos that he believed may be in breach of the Obscene Publications Act (OPA). This came to be known as the ‘Video Nasties’ list. The difficulty with this approach, however, was that a work could only be prosecuted once it had been released, which meant that a large number of copies would already be in circulation and in people’s homes. Furthermore, even if a video was found obscene in one court, it was possible that it might not be found obscene in another. So a conviction against any particular title did not automatically stop it being sold everywhere. Given the problems with effective enforcement of the ‘video nasties’ list, and the reluctance of smaller companies to offer their titles for voluntary classification, Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act in 1984. This Act required that all video works (including laserdiscs and, later, DVDs) must be classified - and, if necessary, cut or rejected - by an authority designated by the Home Secretary (it is now the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport - the DCMS). Given the Board’s experience of dealing with cinema films for over 70 years, the BBFC was the obvious choice. From 1985, all video works released in the UK would be submitted to the BBFC and be classified into an appropriate category (U, PG, 15, 18, R18). Supply of age restricted videos to persons under the age stated on the certificate would become illegal and the supply of unclassified videos would also become a criminal offence. - 27 -
  28. 28. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification The Video Recordings Act (VRA) 1984 continued Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA) In making decisions under the Act, the BBFC was required to consider ‘whether or not video works are suitable for classification certificate to be issued to them, having special regard to the likelihood of video works [...] being viewed in the home’ and to consider whether a video was ‘not suitable for viewing by persons who have not attained a particular age’ or whether ‘no video recording containing that work is to be supplied other than in a licensed sex shop’. The Act also required that tapes, disc and packaging should be correctly labelled with the BBFC certificate and an explanation of that certificate (eg Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over. Not to be supplied to any person below that age). Given the enormous number of video works already in circulation, those video works that had already been released were given a series of deadlines by which they must be classified or removed from the shelves. However, by 1st September 1988 all existing recordings needed to have been classified. Exempt videos The VRA did, however, state that certain types of video works do not require classification by the BBFC. These are: • video works that, taken as a whole, are designed to inform, educate or instruct • video works that are predominantly concerned with sport, religion or music • video games This exemption is, however, lost if the work depicts, to any significant extent, any one of the following: • human sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated with such activity • mutilation or torture of, or other gross violence towards, humans or animals • human genital organs or urinary or excretory functions • techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences Exemption is also forfeit if a work is likely to encourage sexual activity or acts of force associated with it, violence, or the commission of criminal offences. In such cases the work must be classified by the BBFC before it can be legally distributed. - 28 -
  29. 29. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification The Video Recordings Act (VRA) 1984 continued Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 In response to increased public concerns about media violence (largely in reponse to the murder of Jamie Bulger in 1993), the Govenment made some changes to the tests laid out by the Video Recordings Act. Whereas previously the BBFC had been given broad discretion over what elements it should consider when making a classification decision, the main elements of concern were now spelt out clearly. In fact the BBFC had already considered such elements when arriving at classification decision, but the new legislation provided useful clarification, including a specific test as to whether a work might cause ‘harm’. The new tests required that the Board pays “special regard (among the other relevant factors) to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society by the manner in which the work deals with - • criminal behaviour; • illegal drugs; • violent behaviour and incidents; • horrific behaviour or incidents; or • human sexual activitiy” The 1994 legislation was supplemented by the Video Recordings (Review of Determinations) Order 1995, which allowed the BBFC to revisit any of its existing decisions in the light of the new tests. So far the BBFC has not needed to use these extra powers. Digital media The 1994 legislation also redefined the nature of a ‘video work’ so as to more clearly include video games. Although the majority of games remained exempt from classification, the BBFC would now consider those games that included, amongst other things, gross violence, sexual activity, nudity and criminal acts. Computer games have now been around for over twenty years. In the early days, the comparatively pitiful processing power available to programmers meant that games were simple and uncontentious affairs. Games like 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81 were blocky and jerky and would pose no classification issues if they were to come before the BBFC today. However, two major changes have taken place since then that have led to the BBFC having a much more significant influence over the classification of games. First of all, processing power has increased almost exponentially, to the degree that games like Half Life II mimic real life in a way that was inconceivable back in the early days. Secondly, the gaming public has grown up with the medium; the average games-player is now in his or her late 20s and is demanding more adult content. Games like GTA: San Andreas cater for this demand. - 29 -
  30. 30. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Other Legislation Blasphemous Libel This is a common law offence, dating back to the Middle Ages. The law only applies to Christianity. A work is said to be blasphemous when it contains ‘any contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus Christ or the Bible’. It is not blasphemous to speak or publish opinions hostile to the Christian religion or to deny the existence of God, if the publication is couched in decent or temperate language. This law has been only rarely invoked in the history of the BBFC. Related sbbfc Case Study: Visions of Ecstasy The Last Temptation of Christ Race Relations Act 1976 The Race Relations Act 1976, as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, places a legal obligation on public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups. In 2004, examiners discussed whether the Act was relevant during their deliberations after seeing the film, The Passion of the Christ, which some commentators accused of being anti-Semitic. The Board’s conclusion was that it was neither anti-Semitic nor indeed blasphemous. Related sbbfc Links: Racial Issues Political & Racial Issues: A South Asian Perspective Hypnotism Act 1954 The BBFC is occasionally required to classify video works which claim to show self hypnosis techniques to help the viewer give up smoking; lose weight; become more confident etc. The BBFC treats these works with caution and has sought expert advice to help with the classification consideration. The Hypnotism Act deals specifically with hypnotism as part of a stage act and so, arguably, does not apply to so called ‘self-help’ works. The Board tends, with some exceptions, to pass these works at ‘18’ for an adult audience. - 30 -
  31. 31. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Other Legislation continued Human Rights Act 1998 This incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. Articles 8 and 10 of the Convention are the ones most likely to impact on BBFC classification decisions. Article 8 covers the right to respect for private and family life. Article 10 deals with the right of freedom of expression. When classifying works, the BBFC will have regard to the impact of any decision on the rights of any relevant person. The Act does permit restrictions on freedom of expression as are prescribed by domestic law and are necessary in a democratic society; in the interests of national security; territorial integrity or public safety; for the prevention of disorder or crime; for the protection of health or morals; for the protection of the reputation or rights of others; for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence; or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary. Related sbbfc Case Study: Visions of Ecstasy - 31 -
  32. 32. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Classification: Overview How a film, DVD or video game is classified The Board’s classification decisions are reached by consensus, with the Director, the President and the two Vice-Presidents taking ultimate responsibility. Examiners usually view in teams of two. Their daily programme is made up of a mix of film and video and sometimes video games. They watch films for cinema release in the Board’s cinema to accurately reproduce the effect that sound levels and special effects will have on cinema audiences. Videos/DVDs are watched in the Board’s viewing rooms on plasma screens to recreate the ‘home viewing’ experience. In both cases examiners log details of what they watch including: • general context - plot, character, outline of individual scenes • timings of all significant details • classification moments, including camera angles, type of shots, on- and off-screen moments • record of bad language. The examiners then discuss which category to award the work. The distributor can request a specific category, which the team will take into consideration, but such a request will not determine a decision. If necessary and appropriate, cuts may be suggested to meet the category request. Examiners write reports consisting of a synopsis of the work, details of the classification issues and an argument in support of the category decision. Most decisions are straightforward and the category decision is based on the Board’s published Guidelines. If the two examiners cannot agree on the category it is usually because the work falls on the boundary between two categories. The work is then seen by a second team, often with a Senior Examiner, the Deputy Director or Director present at the screening. If the work contains material which is controversial, it will be referred to Senior Management. If a work contains material which is illegal or unacceptable under the Board’s Guidelines the examiners will draw up a list of cuts which will be sent to the distributor. If a work as a whole is unacceptable it can be rejected. The Presidential Team will be consulted on difficult works, especially those which may be refused a certificate altogether or which raise serious policy issues. Many films and videos are in foreign languages (notably Hindi and Cantonese) and examiners with linguistic skills are employed to view these works. Where the work is in a language not spoken by any of the examiners and there are no sub-titles, the Board uses interpreters. - 32 -
  33. 33. www.sbbfc.co.uk – Students’ British Board of Film Classification Introduction The Board works on five major principles in determining the category of a given work: • Precedent - every decision is taken in the light of a previous case, thereby ensuring consistency • Balancing context against detail, with due weight given to the intention of the work as well as the actual images shown • Current published Guidelines covering what is acceptable in each classification category from ‘U’ through to ‘R18’ • Arguments made in mitigation for specific issues, if overall the work is thought to offer positive messages to a younger audience • The work’s target audience - who is likely to want to watch this film, and to whom does it ‘speak’ As well as the relevant legislation, the main classification issues are: • Violence • Weapons • Imitable techniques • Sex • Sexual language • Sexual violence • Drugs • Horror • Criminal activity • Language • Theme • Tone Additionally decisions are made with reference to academic and public opinion research. - 33 -

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